Bring Me the Head of John Ford/Code Alpha
nytheatre.com review by Lucile Scott
June 1, 2008
Bring Me the Head of John Ford, written by Casey Wimpee and directed by Cole Wimpee, opens with a man named Josh swathed in a blanket head to toe and curled up on the floor. He emerges to give an intense 30-minute solo performance that is as much performance art as play.
Clips from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and other old films appear on the TV in Josh's sparse apartment and on occasion on a large screen covering the back wall, which Josh interacts with, quotes, and mimics as he stumbles about the apartment in a pained, destructive daze. Messages left on his answering machine give hints about the extent of his isolation and obsession with the films. He owes more than $200 at the video store. Piles of trash he has not properly discarded are offending his neighbors. His father, speaking with a slight country accent that reminds one of the cowboys on the screen, calls multiple times, saying he has sent some money and that he wants to make amends. This and other events imply that whatever has caused young Josh, who seems to be in his 20s, to lock himself away, is indeed about his family.
Most of the film clips are intense Western moments with little dialogue, set on dusty landscapes or in bars where opponents silently stare one another down before a possibly deadly brawl. Similarly, Josh (portrayed by Michael Mason), a punk cowboy with a Mohawk in cowboy boots and boxer shorts, says little, but gulps water like he's parched and on the film and at one point hits his hand with a hammer. When Mason does speak his voice is friendly and gregarious, contrasting with the stark desperation of his actions and making the character both more likable and more tragic. He briefly narrates the shooting of the film as if he was on the set and actually knows the actors, and later breaks down crying when a woman does not listen to his warnings about the killer Angel Eyes, now acting as if the characters are his friends. The lights remain low and never fully reveal his face, which appears streaked with silver almost glam rock paint. Nothing is fully explained and the play successfully creates an emotional space of a shut-in obsessed with the outlaws he obviously can't be and with film and living vicariously through something that isn't real as his lone connection to reality and the outside world.
Code Alpha, the second act companion piece to John Ford, conversely is about people shut into a cruise ship against their will because a strange and deadly epidemic has broken out. Agent Benjamin A. Shackleton from the Centers for Disease Control has shown up to prepare a press video and make a recommendation for how to proceed with treating the epidemic.
So, while in John Ford movies are bringing the real world in, here the video is the sole source of information about the people on the ship being presented to the world outside. And, it turns out, it is all a big sleazy lie that keeps the public in the dark about the reality of the situation on board. Rufus Tureen has a sweet boyish face as Shackleton, which works well as he tells America not to worry, then off camera, informs Nurse Jessi Thiesen (Elizabeth Ureneck) of what will really go down with a cold, calculating smarminess as she begs him to take different actions.
Code Alpha, which is created by Tureen, Ureneck, and director Judson Kniffen, is an interesting commentary on how the government manipulates and fabricates information and tells us what it thinks we should hear. But it functions mostly as a sketch to make this point, and therefore is a bit of a letdown after the visually beautiful and intense John Ford.